Hues of Holi blend with Dol and Basanto Utsav in Bengal

Story by  Sumana Mukherjee | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 24-03-2024
Women celebrating Basanto Utsav in Kolkata
Women celebrating Basanto Utsav in Kolkata


Sumana Mukherjee/New Delhi

A dusky evening in the City of Joy is in haste just like other days, but only when the traffic gets stuck at the South Sinthi campus of Rabindra Bharati University, BT Road, curious travellers see the area glistening with colours and happy faces.

Florescent street lights turn brighter with the colours of smiles and chatter all around. ‘What is it all about? ‘A curious spectator asks a fellow traveler. ‘Basanto Utsav (Spring festival) in Rabindra Bharati campus,” pat comes the reply.

Traffic remains standstill for more than half an hour when a big group of people emerge from the campus with colours all over their faces. Lively smiles, yellow attires with vivacious colours and the infectious happiness radiates all over to show the celebration of Holi which is known as Basanto Utsav in Jorasanko Thakurbari, the ancestral house of the Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore, and Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata. This is how the city starts bursting with the glory of the festival of colours every year.

Women celebrating Dol and Bansto Utsav in Kolkata

Basanto Utsav, a majestic combination of ancient festival Holi and contemporary thoughts, was invented by Tagore during the last century. Kaviguru who had always led the way of exploring revolutionary vistas in the socio-cultural scenario of Bengal established the tradition of Basanta Utsav in Shantiniketan, a serene place located in Bolpur district of West Bengal.

Basanto Utsav  or the Spring festival was started in 1923 in Shantiniketan and since then it has always remained the center of attraction for the natives and others. Now it has become an international festivity where people love to participate from around the world. Gurudev had the deepest desire to unify people from all walks of life and thus he wished to create such a festival which would be celebrated by all communities and individuals, irrespective of religion, caste or creed.

The traditional celebration of Holi is famously known as ‘Dol’in Bengal and for the people of Bengal the festival is a way of displaying the beautiful colours of nature, expressing joy and love with the advent of Spring.

Young women celebrating joys of life with coloursdurimg Holi in West Bengal

Bengalis celebrate the full moon day of the Phalguna month which is known as Dol Purnima here. As per Mythological beliefs, on this day, Lord Sri Krishna who is known as the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, expressed his pure love for Sri Radha and sprinkled some colours or ‘Phug’ as a gesture of his feelings and both of them had spent hours on a swing which is called ‘Dolna’.The action of swinging is known as ‘Dol’ in Bengali and as per traditions people in Bengal celebrate ‘Dol’ to honour the eternal love of Radha-Krishna.

As per religious beliefs, the land of Bengal has always been sanctified and that might be the reason behind the birth of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu almost after 5000 years of Lord Sri Krishna. Mahaprabhu, believed to be the reincarnation of the Lord was born on the full-moon day of Dol Purnima in Nabadwip of West Bengal. 

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a dedicated Krishna follower and he revived the ‘Bhakti Movement’ in Bengal during the reign of Alauddin Hussain Shah. He was the one who spread the message of religious tolerance during the period of social injustice and communal unrest. People in Nabadwip indulge in a grand celebration of ‘Dol’ in honour of Lord Sri Krishna and Mahaprabhu. Since the revival of the Vaishnav cult in the mid-19th century, Dol in Nabadwip is a spirited celebration that attracts people from every corner of the world. Here everyone plays ‘Dol’ with Abir or natural powdered colours.

Not far from Nabadwip, Mayapur is another place where ‘Dol’ is celebrated with utmost dedication to honour Lord Sri Krishna. Mayapur is the place from where the International Society for Krishna Consciousness - ISKCON started its journey.

ISKCON was established by A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to spread love and peace among people. The magnificent campus of ISKCON in Mayapur is an international destination for celebrating Holi.

Women busy with Abir Khela

People from every part of the world come to Mayapur to experience the grand celebration of the festival of colours. The most amazing thing in ISKCON is ‘Phoolon ki Holi’. People sprinkle flower petals on each other and dry colour Abir as well.

In Kolkata, people start playing Dol early morning with wet colours and it continues till the mid-afternoon. In the evening the play continues with Abir, dry or powdered colour made of dried flowers. Abir khela is an indispensable part of evening gatherings.

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Another important part of Dol is Sri Satyanarayan Puja which is the worship of Lord Vishnu. People believe worshipping Lord Vishnu on Dol Purnima brings blessings and prosperity. Many people arrange Puja at home on this day and offer Sinni, a mixture of Flour, milk, and jaggery with grated coconut and dry fruits.